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Job Search Depressing You? Try A Little Harder


Here is a case study done by Susan Adams, a Forbes Staff Writer.

A new study by Connie Wanberg, Associate Dean at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management and three other academics, takes a look at what happens to people’s mental health when they lose their jobs, and how their mental states fare in the 20 weeks that follow. From a low right after getting laid off, most people experience a steady improvement in their sense of well-being. Then, if they haven’t found a job 10-12 weeks into their search, the trend reverses and they start feeling rejected and depressed.

Wanberg tracked 177 unemployed people over the course of 20 weeks by sending them weekly online surveys. Those who engaged in more intense job searches exhibited better mental health than those who were more relaxed about looking for work. The researchers measured mental health by asking respondents to rate themselves on a six-point scale in response to questions like, “have you felt downhearted and blue?”

The study, which is published in the current issue of The Academy of Management Journal, underlines what is most difficult about looking for a job. It is a lonely, unpredictable process with no rules, no guarantees, no supervision and a huge amount at stake. As Professor Wanberg writes in the paper, “Looking for a job is an unfolding task that is highly autonomous, self-organized, loosely structured, and ill-defined. Individuals must decide on their own how and how often to search, and they rarely receive feedback about the effectiveness of the job-search activities and the strategies they are using.” In other words, both motivation and reward must come from within. When rejections start to pile up, it can be incredibly difficult to keep slugging.

One intriguing statistic from the study: Though career professionals say that job seekers should treat their search like a full-time job, participants in the study spent only 17 hours a week on their search at the outset. That declined to 14 hours a week at week 15, and then ticked up slightly after that. The lesson here, say the researchers: Track the amount of time you spend on your search and bump up your effort if you find it lagging.

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